Review: On Being Presbyterian by Sean Michael Lucas

Quick Facts
About the Author
Book Summary
Where to Buy

Quick Facts

Language: English
Audience: “Not written for specialists or scholars; it is written for church members, ministerial candidates, ruling elders, and, especially, potential Presbyterians” (preface, p. xii)
Writing Style: Informal, Approachable
Notes: Endnotes

About the Author

Sean Michael Lucas earned his PhD from Westminster Theological Seminary (2002) and has served as both Christian minister and seminary professor. He is senior minister of Independent Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Memphis, Tennessee, as well as Chancellor’s Professor of Church History at Reformed Theological Seminary (see his RTS bio page).

Other books by Lucas include:

Book Summary

This book sets out to introduce us to (conservative) Presbyterianism and to map out a well rounded Presbyterian identity. Lucas presents identity as the sum of one’s beliefs, practices, and stories. Not surprisingly, Lucas has arranged the book into three major sections following those three elements of identity. The full structure is as follows:

Introduction: Presbyterian Identity in the Postmodern Age
Part 1: Presbyterian Beliefs
Part 2: Presbyterian Practices
Part 3: Presbyterian Stories
Epilogue: Becoming Presbyterian

In terms of beliefs, Presbyterians are in the Reformed tradition going back to the reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) and later crystallized in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms (1647). Lucas covers key points in Presbyterian faith that tend to distinguish them from other evangelical Christians: the absolute sovereignty of God over all creation and all events, the amazing grace of God by which all things are enabled to exist and by which some are chosen for salvation, the covenant relationship through which God relates to human beings, the nature of the Church (local and universal), and the significance of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Presbyterian practices are grounded in the concept of piety and in the Scriptures. Piety is “how Presbyterians believe that the Christian life should be lived” (p. 100) and comprises a range of practices by which our love for God is demonstrated (e.g. worship, prayer, singing, and service). Presbyterian worship follows the ‘regulative principle,’ which is the idea that God Himself outlines what is appropriate and what is not appropriate in His written Word. Key to this idea is the notion that there are elements of worship that are clearly mandated in Scripture (e.g. reading and preaching of Scripture; administration of the sacraments; presentation of offerings; singing; and sometimes taking oaths) and then there are circumstances of worship which are not directly regulated by the Bible for which we may use our discretion (e.g. when, how, in what style an element of worship is done). Presbyterian church government follows similar principles, obeying what is clearly stipulated in Scripture and then exercising wisdom and freedom in what is not explicitly covered. The Presbyterian rules for government and operation are codified in the Book of Church Order.

There are five chapters on Presbyterian history. The first begins with John Calvin and continues with the influential Scottish reformer John Knox (c. 1514-1572) and the Westminster Standards. The other four cover the history of American Presbyterianism beginning with the settlement of Scots and Scots-Irish Presbyterians and ending with an optimistic outlook on the future of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), one of several Presbyterian denominations in the US today.


Let me make it clear from the beginning that this book is primarily interested in a ‘conservative’ Presbyterian identity that is true to the historical roots of Presbyterianism and that is at home within a particular denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Accordingly, the section on Presbyterian beliefs sets out mainly to describe the Reformed faith as represented in the Westminster Standards. Similarly, the ultimate goal of the section on Presbyterian stories is to explain where the PCA came from. That said, the book covers material that would be useful and familiar to members of other conservative Presbyterian denominations.

The book is strongest in parts one and two. These sections are approachable, clear, and do a good job of introducing the reader to key points in Presbyterian belief and practice. I appreciate the way that quotations from the Westminster Standards are used to ground the exposition in traditional Presbyterian thought, as well as the effort that Lucas makes to point the reader to the biblical grounding of that thought in specific passages from Scripture. I also appreciate the his creative use of traditional hymns to illustrate the richness of the Presbyterian tradition.

The third part of the book struggles to present a great deal of historical information in a concise way. The history of American Presbyterianism is complicated with many conflicts, divisions, reunifications, mergers, etc., and it can be hard to track with the all the key figures, dates, and movements. For those interested in history, one might consider Lucas’ other book For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America for the more complete picture.

Production quality is quite high. Besides being well printed, every chapter includes a set of questions for thought and review, as well as a recommended bibliography for further reading. The book uses endnotes and contains three indices, including subjects and names, Scripture passages, and sections of the Westminster Standards.

In conclusion, this is a very helpful book for its intended audience, especially since many people in Presbyterian churches today have come there from elsewhere. I doubt that there exists a better introduction to Presbyterianism.

Writing Style4
Content Quality4
Production Quality5
Total4.5 / 5

Where to Buy

This book is available from many book sellers. One place it is available is Book Depository.

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